Based on the synopsis given below, how would one answer the following questions: Why did Max Weber refer to bureaucracy as the "iron cage of the future?"  How can the president measure the...

Based on the synopsis given below, how would one answer the following questions:

Why did Max Weber refer to bureaucracy as the "iron cage of the future?"  How can the president measure the effectiveness and responsiveness of ACME's internal bureaucracy?  What steps can ACME widget take to avoid being gobbled up by Continental's bureaucracy?

b. Give examples and discuss three benefits and three costs (dysfunctions) of bureaucracy.

c. Define, give an example, and discuss one cost and one benefit of three of the following organizational ways in which labor can be controlled :
- direct personal control,
- foreman's control,
- scientific management,
- technical control,
- bureaucratic control

d.  Apply the Chinese proverb, "For every order from above (the Imperial Court) there is a tactic from below" to ACME's situation.

e. Why is career mobility so restricted for workers in laboring jobs?  How can we make it easier for workers to either advance in their current career or branch out into career fields with greater potential for growth?

f. What is the relationship between global competition in manufacturing industries and speciality niche markets?

g. Why do skilled workers resent close supervision? What are some of the ways skilled workers seek to avoid or nullify close supervision?

h. Define externalization and give and example of externalization in practice.

Synopsis: You have just been hired as the Assistant Vice-President of Planning and Operations for the ACME Widget Factory.  Your firm has just been purchased by the General Continental Conglomerate and your assignment is to help ACME Widget adapt to its new role as a member of Continental's conglomerate.  The president of ACME knows all about widgets, but he now has to redesign his firm to fit with the conglomerate.  He has asked you to explain to him how technology and organization will change under the new regime, and how his factory will fit in with General Continental Conglomerate's field and mine operations. Next Monday he has asked you to take five minutes in his staff meeting to brief him on the following specific topics.  You have been hired based on your previous experience so feel free to use the organization you have spoken of in previous discussions to explain these topics to him.

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The president of ACME fears any negative effects of bureaucracy, and rightly so; hence, in order to quiet his fears through your 5-minute presentation, you need to understand exactly why social theorist Max Weber interpreted bureaucratization in a negative light, calling it the "iron cage." You'll then also want to learn how to avoid the negative traps of bureaucratization and state those in your presentation as well.

Weber saw bureaucracies as being different from the feudal system, but not remarkably different. In the feudal system of medieval Europe, peasants were permitted to live on the land of the noble class, so long as they worked the farms on the land, paying a significant portion of the profits to the noble class landowners. The result is that the landowners had full authority over the lower class, making the lower class wholly dependent on the mercies of the landowners, who often weren't merciful at all. In a bureaucracy, every lower laborer is wholly dependent on the "[h]ierarchy of command" ("Iron Cage"). The difference between a bureaucracy and feudalism is that a bureaucracy is regulated by a strict set of rules both defined within the bureaucracy and outside of it, while regulation within the feudal system was much more arbitrary. However, since all choices and actions are so strictly regulated by an ordered set of rules made and given by the highest chain of command, which is also the fewest number of people, the result is that, as Weber saw it, democracy cannot exist within a bureaucracy. Instead, a bureaucracy is "impersonal" and "dehumanizing" and even restricting, just like an "iron cage." Hence, Weber's term "iron cage" refers to the fact that resting all of the power of authority in the least number of people results in restricting, regulating, and dehumanizing the vast majority of people within the bureaucracy.

However, bureaucracies were formed at a time when such control seemed much more beneficial than what currently existed, so bureaucracies do hold certain hypothetical benefits. One benefit is that if the highest in command holds all of the control, then everyone knows who to blame if something goes wrong. A bureaucracy also makes sense if the highest in command has the greatest amount of education as opposed to the lower workers, which would have been the case when bureaucracies were first created during the 1920s and 30s; however, the hierarchy of education is certainly not the case today, which is one reason why the bureaucracy is a questionable form. Another benefit is that being guided by strict rules and regulations rather than by "arbitrary 'judgements'" decreed by the highest chain in command guarantees that there is some consistency within the workplace, and when there are dangers of discrimination against people with different "class, education, race, religion or creed," consistency is very important ("The Major Benefits Promised by the Bureaucratic Form"). What's more, if all individuals are treated consistently rather than being treated like individual human beings, both the workers and the consumers, then, as the theory goes, those people are more likely to be treated equally. Hence, one supposed benefit of bureaucracy is that people are both regulated and treated consistently, which supposedly equates to being treated equally. A fourth benefit is that bureaucracies require certain functions to be managed by specialists, and those specialists are overseen by top management; the ability of overseeing specialists guarantees that management can have stronger control and have tasks completed much more efficiently ("The Major Benefits").

However, despite the theories of consistency, equality, and efficiency, as Weber pointed out, a bureaucracy is not a democracy, and only power in the hands of the many results in true fairness and freedom. Hence, bureaucracies can pose dangers, which is what the president of ACME is rightfully concerned about.